Free Sima

I was outraged when I learned about the detention of an Iranian woman who has been peacefully living in Carrboro for several years.

Sima Fallahi, 48, was detained last week after living in the United States for two decades. Her 104 Shelton St. duplex is a few blocks from Carrboro Elementary School, where she served in the Parent Teacher Association, and Weaver Street Market, the local natural foods hangout. Her paintings have hung in Town Hall.

Now Fallahi sits in a Mecklenburg County federal prison.

Her Western ideals, out-of-wedlock daughter and Unitarian beliefs would cause her to be "persecuted, tortured and/or killed" if deported, Fallahi wrote in a 1998 application for political asylum.

Mayor Mark Chilton and state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird urged Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat, to intervene.
- | Fate of mom, girl worries Carrboro

I'm definitely glad to hear our elected officials are getting involved. If you know any of them, please encourage and support their efforts to shine a spotlight on this until Sima is freed or at least gets a fair hearing. Here's the part I don't get:

Fallahi was detained Wednesday after applying for a Chapel Hill business permit to sell art on the street.

During a routine background check, the Chapel Hill Police Department found her name on "final order for removal" status on an immigration law enforcement database. She was detained at the Orange County jail until immigration authorities transferred her to federal prison.

Didn't the Chapel Hill Town Council pass a resolution encouraging local law enforcement to disregard excessive federal laws that violate local residents civil rights. Does this not fall into that category?



The N&0 story says about the final order for removal
""This [status] means a person has had their day in court, they've met before an immigration judge, and the judge has ordered them removed," he said."

I wonder if that is correct?

Ruby, as I remember that resolution, it had to do with the Patriot Acts. Is this case related to that?

Here's the link to my post on this from Saturday which includes a link to that day's N&O article.

David Beck has agreed to set up and receive contributions to a support fund for Sima. As soon as the details are worked out, he or I will post information on how to make contributions. Legal expenses could be considerable.

Sima's friends have engaged an immigration attorney who will determine what her exact status is and what the options are for action on her behalf.

I think there was a additional resolution in Carrboro that directed law enforcement not to detain people for simple immigration violations if no other crime was involved. (Sima is a perfect example of why that was a good idea.) I don't know if Chapel Hill has a similar rule.

Many questions. The N&O obtained the above quote from an Immigration official on Friday. Today they report that it's not known whether or not Sima formally submitted her application for asylum in 1998. If she didn't, that leads to more questions.

Congressman Price says Sima needs a really good immigration lawyer, indicating that he can't reverse a final order for removal.

Thnx for starting this thread Ruby. Here's a link to today's N&O story:

As Dan notes, we are working on getting a bank acct set up to accept contributions. Hopefully this will be done this afternoon. I plan to call the acct "Friends of Sima Sillahi". I think it will be a non-interest bearing acct to reduce the need to report interest on it, though maybe that doesn't make sense. Trying to think through all of this as it could be a long-term thing.

I too am wondering how this happened. Apparently, Sima went to some CH town office to apply for a permit to show her artwork and was outed on a "routine background check".

It will probably take a few days for the attorney to dig through the background and answer the many important questions folks are raising. At the moment we do not know what steps have transpired in the past, what resulted from them, or what options are now available.

The Carrboro resolution Ruby refers to can be found in our May 16, 2006 minutes. I have sent a copy of this resolution to Mark Kleinschmidt to consider for Chapel Hill. I told Patrick Winn of the N&O that I have no doubt that Chapel Hill will enact something similar.

I wrote a story about the ordeal based on info sent to me by Bob Wright and Kathleen Barton, who are currently taking care of Leila, that's posted on

Thanks, Jackie, for this detailed and heart-wrenching account. I sent your description of Sima's treatment in the jail to the county commissioners by way of suggesting that there should be more concern for the need of those incarcerated to make arrangements for the care of their children.

Good idea Dan. We need to try to ensure this never happens to anyone else's kids. David, if you are able to set up online donating let me know and I can link to it from the story on I can also include a mailing address if you aren't able or don't want to do an online donation. Let me know if you need help with it.

Unless there's something going on here that's not obvious, this is an excellent example of why we need more liberal immigration laws -- if someone is hard-working, pays taxes and is a member of the community, they should have every right to live in America.

Why was it necessary to run a background check run on someone who just wanted to display art? Is every artist subjected to background checks or only non-citizens?

Sima had planned to sell her art, not just display it. She needed a vendor's permit in order to do that legally.

Will do Jackie. Thnx for all the work getting the story out! Also, please folks, I'm not sure it's helpful to flood Rep. Price with calls just to weigh in. He's well aware of the problem, he's doing everything he can and all the time that his staff are just spending time answering calls, then they have less time to make the calls they need and to recieve crucial incoming calls that they are trying to get returned.

Thnx! :)

Maybe not calls, but at least emails. I think it's important that he knows how many people are outraged over this.

I am really upset that the Town of Chapel Hill helped enforce such an unjust immigration law. The Town Council should seriously consider a resolution similar to the one the Town of Carrboro passed directing their law enforcement. (as referenced to above by Dan Coleman) I hope all the facts in Sima's case are made public so we may know just what happened.

It happened in Georgia as well (see today's USAToday):

ATLANTA — The national immigration debate often focuses on efforts to stop thousands of people from illegally crossing the border each year. But some people who have spent years in the USA still have to fear a knock on the door.
The wife of a Georgia state senator went into hiding last week when she learned that federal immigration officers were trying to serve a deportation order on her.

The drama came to a temporary end Tuesday when Sascha Herrera, the Colombia-born wife of state Sen. Curt Thompson, turned herself in. Herrera, 27, was freed after an interview with a federal immigration judge and attorneys for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Herrera is technically still in deportation proceedings until a hearing can be held on her husband's petition to establish permanent residency for her, said her attorney, Charles Kuck.

Thompson, a Democrat whose metro Atlanta district includes large immigrant communities, has been a passionate voice for immigration rights in a state that earlier this year passed one of the nation's most stringent laws against illegal immigrants.

"Like the president, I believe we need a comprehensive solution on immigration," Thompson said after his wife's release. "Building a fence (at the border) would not have helped this situation with my wife."

Thompson said he and his wife didn't know there was a problem with her immigration status until federal officers knocked on their door Nov. 28. She was not home at the time.

The deportation order was prompted by Herrera's repeated failure to appear before a judge on an application for asylum, which Kuck said she didn't know had been filed.

Herrera came to the USA on a visitor's visa in 2003, Kuck said. She was duped by a "notario," a man who pretended that he was qualified to handle her application for a visa extension, he said. She then signed an application for asylum at the notario's suggestion but decided not to proceed, Kuck said.

In 2004, she was accepted as a student at Kennesaw State University, which obtained a student visa for her. She and Thompson, 37, were married in April. He applied for her to become a permanent resident, he said.


Latest news is that there may be grounds to appeal Sima's removal (deportation) order due to incompetent legal representation by her previous lawyer during her immigration hearing in 2001. Sima is still in Charlotte which is good news insofar as it is still possible for Leila to visit. Also, someone from O.C. Social Services visited Sima and determined that temporary guardianship of Leila will be assigned to Sima's friends here.

Brian, I have forwarded the Carrboro resolution to several Chapel Hill council members for their consideration.

So if Chapel Hill had a similar policy in place as Carrboro, would this not have happened? Or was Chapel Hill somehow otherwise obligated to report Sima?

Joan, That point is not clear since we do not know the precise nature of the violation Sima is charged with. I believe Chapel Hill council-members are looking into their own regulations and whether they need to be improved.

I just got an odd email from Sima's family,I assume others have as well.Anyone know what's up with that?
Jacquie Gist

David Beck is working with that situation Jacquie and it is more complex than it initially appears. David will be lettin us know how to proceed on the issue of financial support for Leila and Sima as soon as he can.

Um, hello super-secret agent people. No fair passing notes in class!

David Beck also passes along the latest from David Price's office:

"Price's office has engaged directly with Secretary Chertoff's office about Sima's case and has asked the Secretary's office to help keep Sima in Charlotte as long as possible. Rep. Price's staff's sense is that the Dept. of Homeland Security will do everything possible to make sure Sima gets a full hearing. This is good news. At a minimum, Rep. Price's office has asked to be notified if there is any decision made to move Sima."

i dont understand why the family wants us to forget about what happened to sima we all care about sima and Leila

Word from Congressman David Price's office this evening that Sima Fallahi will be able to remain in Charlotte for now. There had been concern that she would be taken to Atlanta as soon as this weekend in preparation for a court hearing on her case.

Price's office received word this afternoon from DHS that Fallahi will be able to remain in Charlotte and closer to her 12-year-old daughter “for the time being.”

I'm having trouble following this thread. I get the sense that there are multiple levels of awareness about this case. All I know, however, is what I'm reading here (which is quite depressing). Can somebody fill in some of the details?

Just found this story, which explains at least a little bit.

Eric - I don't think that story explains much except what the relatively uninvolved relatives in Chicago are saying. I'm still trying to help with the people who are closest to Sima and Leila and hope to get a fund set up ASAP. It has been frustrating tto lots of us that it's taken so long, but it just has. The good news is that Sima is still in Charlotte and probably will be there for a while and that she seems to have some good legal defense around the competency of her first attorney and her clear need for political asylum.

At this point, for whatever my role is, I would just ask that people remain patient as we try to work through some of the myriad of concerns and figure the most effective ways to be helpful to Sima and Leila.

We got called by kathleen from NC regarding my sister's trouble. We have spoken to Sima's attorney and said that we are ready to assume Sima's legal expenses and take care of Leila, as we assumed her legal expenses previously plus many of the other expenses that Sima has incurred in the past. We thought that you wanted us involved because you called. It appears that you are more interested in raising funds where there really is no need. Whatever makes you feel good. I just don't see why anybody should pay for something that we should be paying for, when we are ready to pay. Strange world!

Yeah, but isn't it also strange for your family to reject an offer of support from Sima's friends who presumably have the same goals for her freedom as her family has?

It makes me suspect that there is at least some pride intervening, and possibly some disagreement over how best to proceed. Otherwise, why reject genuine, qualified help?

It sounds to me that they're saying, "The money isn't necessary, but if it makes you feel better, all right." I don't hear a rejection of support in that post. I'm referring only to that post -- I, like Eric, am in the dark on this. I think it's time for an explanation of why there seems to be some disagreement between local supporters and the family about how to proceed, especially when it comes to money being raised by and from well-meaning local people. I also think it's unfair to accuse the family of disagreeing out of pride, unless you have some special knowledge of the circumstances.

Rather than pride, for instance, is it possible that the custody of Leila is at issue? It sure sounds like it, and with good reason.

I do not think it is appropriate to get into a discussion of Sima's familial relations in this forum.

Here's what we know and what should be the basis for our discussion:
-Sima has given a power of attorney to her friends Kathleen and Bob who are working with her immigration attorneys;
-Sima, with concurrence of Orange County Social Services, has given custody of Leila through the end of the school year to Kathleen and Bob;
-her friends and attorneys, with some assistance from David & Rachel Beck and myself, are setting up a mechanism for the community to contribute financially to Sima's legal expenses.

I hope that all who share my concern for Sima's fate will honor her desire, expressed consistently through her actions, that her friends and community provide the help she needs.

An update from the attorneys is expected Wednesday evening.

It is not a question of family pride, but a sense of obligation towards my sister. Sima goes through these sagas from time to time and generally we bail her out, before Mardjan and I got married I used to do it alone, now we are two. It costs me money, but at least each time I meet with good people that are interested in the welfare of others.Her legal expenses is a mute point, because she has chosen to have the community pay her legal expenses, which is fine with us if that is OK with you. I will be down on thursday to discharge some of her outstanding community bills and put order in her affairs and I will meet some of her new friends. Regarding Leila, I have done the best I could to keep these two together. Leila has a very stablizing effect on Sima and Sima's love is one of a few good things that Leila has. Besides , she is the argument for preventing Sima's deportation. I will fight off anybody who wants to take permanent custody of this child, because she belongs to Sima. It is just so painful for mardjan and I to see her go through these ups and downs, but what can we do.

Too bad Sima's not married to an elected official...

"The Colombia-born wife of a Georgia state senator emerged from hiding and turned herself in Tuesday to face a deportation order, but an immigration judge lifted the order and she was expected to be freed."

Well, even though they say "justice is blind", I don't recall anyone saying that it couldn't be influenced. Certainly makes you cringe to think about the evenness with which are laws are applied.

Connections undoubtedly matter, as Ruby notes. I'd add, though, that it's possible that the two situations are distinguishable. The state senator's wife was subject to a deportation order for failure to appear in connection with an asylum application that she claims she knew nothing about. From the meager public information about the Carrboro case, I've inferred that perhaps Sima had an asylum claim actually adjudicated (and rejected) by an immigration judge. I'm certainly no expert in immigration law, but it wouldn't surprise me if the law left greater flexibility in the former case than the latter.

None of this is to say that the Carrboro situation is actually fair or right; it is simply to note that the situation may be legally different from the one in the Georgia story that has been linked here a couple of times.

Assumptions and inferences in this post are naturally subject to correction from folks who actually know what's going on.

Today's N&O has a story on the role of the Chapel Hill Police Department in this case. I think, given our dark history in this state (and in others) with selectively enforcing laws, this requires some careful consideration if people demand that our police not respond to detainment orders. To me, this seems right on the edge of telling officers to ignore their oaths as a sworn law officers.

Eric, you infer correctly that the final order for removal was issued by an immigration judge. And if Sima's number had come up in Carrboro, it's quite possible that she would have been detained by Carrboro police... a moot point but worthy of consideration. Municipal policy isn't designed to override a federal mandate.

Ruby, as a case in point, some people born in foreign countries do become American citizens with (lots of paperwork and) relative ease. My son, for example.

I'm not defending the status quo, but there are different processes for people with legal, familial relationships to adult Americans.

Fred, this is a complex subject that our Town Attorney reviewed and advised us on. I am not an expert on this area of law, but as I understand it, Immigration and Customs Enforcement often issues "civil detention orders" which are not arrest warrants. People with outstanding arrest warrants (from whatever court) are arrested by Carrboro PD when they are encountered. There does not appear to be any law that requires local police departments to do ICE's job for them in enforcing "civil detention orders" and so we have declined to do so unless some sort of criminal behavior is also implicated in the situation (eg if someone carried out a robbery and turned up on the civil detention order list, they would presumably be turned over to ICE among other things.

Doesn't Sima have some sort of obligation here? Coming from a family of legal immigrants who I can say that it's harder now than it was in the 1950s, but even my grandparents filled out the paperwork and did everything by the book. She didn't and my first question is, why not?

Now, I'm not sure the town of Chapel Hill should be running background checks on everything, but they have to enforce the warrant. If they don't, other law enforcement may ignore their warrants for criminals that may have fled Chapel Hill. This reciprocity is important.

I don't disagree that the immigration laws need some overhaul, but I think Rep. Price is right, she better get a good attorney because she'll need it.

Thanks Mark for that input. Clearly it is a complex subject and the fact that different departments and officers within departments are of a variety of opinions makes it even more complex. Not doing "ICE's job for them" is your position but who is ICE doing the job for? Slippery slope in my mind, and as the N&O article pointed out, it's just not me.

I'm still surprised that no one is disturbed that Chapel Hill is running a full background check on someone who just wanted to sell art. When do background checks cross the line from public safety into violating personal privacy? Should someone have a background check run before they get a library card? Before they enroll in school? Before they are appointed to the town advisory board?

Terri, to get a library card, proof of identity and residency is required and if you don't live in Orange County, you pay an annual fee of $60.
To enroll in school, you also have to show where you live. To be a volunteer, you get a background check.

In the case being discussed, it was not selling art that is the trigger, it is getting a license. They run similar checks to get a drivers license.

As for when the line is crossed, that's a good question. For some it's what's worse, the Type I or the Type II error.

Should Sima be deported, we are looking into arrangements to send her to Australia. It is a long shot but definitly worth trying in a desparate case like this. The advantage of this is that Leila could join her there. Of course there is no guarantee that she will not get into trouble over there.

There was a good discussion yesterday on "The State of Things" on the issue of local police officers enforcing federal immigration law. It featured my law school colleague Deborah Weissman. I listened and learned a lot.

You can find it here:

For folks wanting to contribute funds to help pay for Sima's legal bills (estimated in the $10k to $15K range), Jackie Helvey Hayes has set up a webpage with all the best info on how to contribute as well as updates. It's at: - thnx for creating this spot Jackie :). And others please forward the site to those you know may want to help. It's the best - and perhaps only - way to help at this point, in my view.

There are many ways that Sima can be helped and I believe that I pointed out to you in my several e-mails and conversations when I was in NC. First and foremost, keep this a private matter. I think the lawyer even told you about that. Second, don't put inaccurate information on that website. Putting inaccuracy on Ms Helvey's website, even if it is for attracting funds, can have severe backlashes for Sima herself who is sitting in jail and doesn't have anything to do with the misinformation that Ms Helvey and Ms Barton concuss. A prosecutor might look at this as an attempt at manipulation of the justice system for obtaining a favorable outcome. the best of it is that Sima has nothing to do with it. With friends like this who needs enemies.

Another way to help would be to to prevent Ms Barton from taking the child out of state, which I believe is her intention. We are obviously very worried about this . Besides I thought all the drama of keeping Sima in Charlotte was for her to be near Leila, but now Leila will be travelling for two weeks to New York and other places and will not visit her mother. Makes you wonder what was the real reason that the local folks insisted that Sima should remain in Charlotte. Obviously the circus that you guys have created puts carboro on the map. Makes your lives interesting, too. Fundraisers, town hall meetings, interviews. I would have no problem with small town people diverting themselves, except that my sister and my niece might pay dearly for this.



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